Stage work key to honing Kids’ craft
What: An Evening with Kevin McDonald featuring Paper Street Theatre Where: The Metro Studio Theatre, 1411 Quadra St. When: Sunday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 at eventbrite.com
YouTube would have done wonders for ’90s comedy troupes such as the Kids in the Hall, whose 102 episodes of absurdist comedy were pastiches of short segments.
But it might also have accelerated their demise.
Kevin McDonald, who cofounded the Toronto ensemble in 1984 with Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Dave Foley and Scott Thompson, is happy the Kids in the Hall found success precisely when they did.
“[YouTube] would have sped up our success, but by the time we would have gotten on a TV show, we would have had less stage chops,” McDonald said.
“For us, stage chops and acting techniques were very important. The consensus in the troupe is that we were writers first and performers second. I think we needed those years on stage. Had we not performed in front of a live audience, I think it would have hurt us in the long run.”
The Kids in the Hall were one of Canada’s top comedy exports in the late ’80s and early ’90s, despite some heavy competition. Canadian comics Mike Myers and Jim Carrey were box-office draws at the time, while other Canuck comics such as Norm McDonald, Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie were generating substantial momentum as well.
Few could match the critical kudos paid to the uniquely talented quintet of comics, however. Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels took a particular liking to them, and was instrumental in getting them a deal with HBO in 1989. The Kids in the Hall series also aired on CBS and CBC before it wrapped in 1995.
McDonald has been busy on several fronts in the years since. In addition to a string of live dates and instructional sketch-comedy workshops across North America, which brings him to Victoria on Sunday for a night of funny with Paper Street Theatre, he’s working feverishly on his variety-show podcast, Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show.
He’s also waiting to hear if a show he pitched to CBC will be greenlit, and McDonald said he’s in talks with Comedy Central about another TV show, this one based on his popular podcast.
He does his best to practise what he preaches, but the variety of media he is creating follows a separate set of rules, requiring an ever-changing sets of skills.
He expects those who take his course or collaborate with him on stage to be open to all ideas. “For all the rules I teach students, they change from sketch to sketch. Every sketch is different, and a rule that applies to one won’t apply to the next, whereas 75 per cent of the rules that apply to stand-up probably apply to all stand-up.”
McDonald either wrote or starred in several notable sketches (The King of Empty Promises, My Pen!, Girl Drink Drunk) on The Kids in the Hall, but his resumé includes more mainstream fare as well, particularly a long string of appearances as a voice actor for children’s cartoons. McDonald also had cameos in a pair of seminal sitcom episodes — the Seinfeld “Festivus” episode and the Friends “Third Nipple” episode — that have lived on.
Not every skit hit the mark in The Kids in the Hall, and McDonald is the first to admit the troupe had its share of growing pains. He teaches the spirit of perseverance to his students, and the process of rehearsal — a key to successful sketch comedy, he said — was something that greatly benefited the Kids in the Hall troupe.
“I realize some things were bad, and sometimes I wonder why I thought they were funny to begin with,” he said. “But I’m so happy that we did it. Everything builds for the good. Even the one or two bad things we did builds to the seven or eight good things we did.”
The Kids in the Hall have returned to the stage for reunion tours in recent years, with no firm plans of officially reforming, according to McDonald.
If aspiring comics learn anything from his experiences, hard work should be their No. 1 takeaway, McDonald said. “You’ll get your lucky break once or twice a year, but it will be invisible to you if you aren’t ready for it. To be ready for it, you have to work all the time.”
Kids in the Hall veteran Kevin McDOnald appears at the Metro Studio Theatre with Paper Street Theatre on Sunday at 8 p.m.